21 June 2018


I don't know that I warm to our new Public Orator. In the 1950s, dear Dacre Balsdon, in his sweet book Oxford Life, referred to the Orator at Encaenia as delivering Orations "studded with vile puns", but vilitude can surely be taken too far. Yesterday, presenting Professor Mary Beard, Mr Orator gave us "Num cuiquam alii inter studiosos nostros antehac tabula picta PAENE-APotheosis concessa est ?" which, so the accompanying crib explained, puns on the word 'pin-up'. (I don't think, anyway, that, even in hormone-dominated adolescence, I would ever have pinned Ms Beard up, even had I known her, which I didn't, and even if I had possessed any pins, which I didn't.) Indeed, puns, in my view should not need recondite explanations redolent of the Alexandrian Library on a Bad Hair Day. But how, without a crib, could one spot (this was in the Oration introducing my Lord Neuberger) that "MENS" punned upon the Hebrew: "mentsh among the Menschen"?

Still, there were interesting nuggets in the Creweian Oration. Mr Orator revealed that both Horace and Cicero were Oxford Men. I can only imagine that this is a recently discovered goody from the somewhat disordered early archives of the University. Perhaps it will soon appear in the Zeitschrift fuer Papyrologie und Epigraphik, possibly in the exciting Papyrus Obbink series. Mind you, I have never believed all that stuff about Boadicea having founded the University. I know that one should not rely too heavily upon an argumentum ex silentio, but the fact that Tacitus nowhere mentions her role as a fautrix litterarum latinarum seems to me decisive.

I have always suspected, however, that Rousham was the Sabine Farm; and I am sure that its stretch of the Cherwell is the fons Bandusiae. One of these days, I shall surreptitiously sacrifice a kid there.

1 comment:

Sprouting Thomas said...

I do think the number of languages required to understand a pun should be subject to a certain economy - particularly if there is no prior indication of which ones it's going to involve! If you are writing something like macaronic verse, or the pun itself is made in a different language to the main text, that's another case, naturally, since one is "primed". But all those rude fellows like Aristophanes and Martial seem to have got by pretty well without bringing in offhand anagrams of Middle Egyptian and Pannonian Celtic, though doubtless they were not at the level of cultivation of a University Orator.

When Maurice Keen gave the customary address to his old school in 2011, his delivery of " aut disce aut discede manet sors tertia caedi " (like his whole address, in the English pronunciation) was so forceful as to be startling, and is still remembered by all present, even non-Latinists.